TILLAMOOK — The Oregon Court of Appeals has upheld the approval of a 9-mile transmission line across farms and forest land in Tillamook County without explaining its legal reasoning.
Last month, the Tilla-Bay Farms dairy was joined by the Oregon Coast Alliance conservation group in arguing the project didn’t comply with land use rules.
The transmission line is controversial because critics fear it will disrupt farm activities, such as aerial spraying, while encouraging trespass and vandalism of private forestland. The Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Dairy Farmers Association have opposed the project’s approval.
The Tillamook People’s Utility District says the transmission line is necessary for reliable service to the community of Oceanside, which faces power outages from vehicle and trees colliding with an existing distribution line.
Opponents claim the project could be avoided by building a second distribution line along existing road easements, which wouldn’t take additional farm and forest land out of commission.
During oral arguments in May, the Court of Appeals mostly focused on whether such a transmission line is permissible within estuary zones in Tillamook County.
Tilla-Bay Farms and Oregon Coast Alliance argued the county government and Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals improperly determined that transmission lines are allowable as a “similar use” to distribution lines, which can cross such estuary zones.
The utility district countered that conduit lines for transmission lines are identical to distribution lines and no support structures will be constructed within the estuary zones.
On June 19, the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed LUBA’s decision that Tillamook County had adequately followed land use rules in approving the project but did not issue a written opinion.
The Tillamook People’s Utility District is also trying to obtain the power of eminent domain to foreclose on portions of 37 properties in the path of the planned transmission line.
Critics of the project argue eminent domain power isn’t justified because demand for electricity in Oceanside isn’t growing as rapidly as the utility district expects.
The eminent domain decision will be made by the Oregon Public Utility Commission, which is still deliberating on the matter.